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Venezuelan opposition leader to turn himself in

7:46 PM, Feb 16, 2014   |    comments
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (C) greets supporters during an opposition demo against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on February 12, 2014. Unidentified assailants on a motorcycle fired into a crowd of anti-government protesters, leaving at least two people wounded and a pro-government man dead. (JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, the target of a Venezuelan police manhunt for allegedly inciting violence at anti-government protests that ended with three deaths, said Sunday that he will surrender himself after staging one more demonstration.

In a video shot in an undisclosed location, Lopez said he didn't fear arrest but accused authorities of trying to violate his constitutional right to protest against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

He urged supporters to gather Tuesday in white shirts and march peacefully with him to the Interior Ministry, where he said he would deliver a petition demanding a full investigation of the government's role in the deaths. He said he would turn himself over to authorities Tuesday.

"I haven't committed any crime," said Lopez, who hasn't been seen since a news conference Wednesday night after the bloodshed. "If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail I'll submit myself to this persecution."

Lopez's comments came after security forces raided his home and that of his parents late Saturday, seeking to serve an arrest order on charges ranging from vandalism of public property to terrorism and homicide. Lopez wasn't at either residence in Caracas' leafy eastern district when national guardsmen and military intelligence officials arrived. Aides said neighbors banged on pots and pans to protest what they considered an arbitrary detention order.

The raids capped another night of protests during which security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a group of about 500 students who vowed to remain on the streets until all arrested anti-government demonstrators are released. Authorities said 23 people were being treated for injuries, none of them life-threatening.

More protests were held Sunday without incident by late afternoon.

Lopez, a Harvard-educated former mayor, is the most prominent of a group of opposition hard-liners who are challenging two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles for leadership of anti-Maduro movement.

Maduro accuses the 42-year-old Lopez of leading a U.S.-backed "fascist" plot to oust him from power just two months after the ruling party's candidates won mayoral elections by a landslide.

Lopez "ordered all these violent kids, who he trained, to destroy the prosecutor's office and half of Caracas and then goes into hiding," Maduro told thousands of supporters at a pro-government rally Saturday. "Turn yourself in coward."

Lopez has vowed to press ahead with demonstrations calling for Maduro to give up power. The opposition blames the socialist president for Venezuela's rampant crime, 50 percent inflation and worsening shortages of basic goods.

Lopez has called on Venezuelans to avoid violence. He says he had nothing to do with Wednesday's clashes between activists and police and pro-government militias after the peaceful conclusion of a rally he helped organized against Maduro's 10-month-old government.

U.S. officials have denied any plotting to oust Maduro. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday expressed concern over the rising tensions and violence surrounding the protests.

"We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez," Kerry said in a statement. "These actions have a chilling effect on citizens' rights to express their grievances peacefully."

In an apparent bid to dampen anti-government demonstrations, which have been held off and on since Wednesday, Maduro said he had ordered the suspension of subway and bus service in the Chacao area of the capital where the protests are centered.

"We can't have a moment of weakness, because we are trying to defeat a fascist movement that wants to end the country we have," said Maduro, the hand-picked successor to the late Hugo Chavez.

Since Friday, student protesters have disrupted traffic on the main highway through Caracas for several hours each day.

"We are not going to give in or kneel. We are going to continue in the streets, fighting for Venezuelans and the youths who want a democratic country, with free media that aren't censored or self-censored, with justice and equity," said Juan Requesen, a student leader at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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